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The Coming of the Maori

Rewards and Punishments

Rewards and Punishments

Rewards and punishments in a future state were not known to the Maori until after the coming of the white man. The Maori concept did not include the reward or punishment of the soul in the next world for what its body had done in this world. The Maori gods rewarded or punished in this world and were strangely apathetic to what occurred in the next. Thus death closed the account of the body, and the soul (wairua) entered the spirit land (reinga) with a clean sheet and without apprehension. As there were no just and unjust, there were no heaven and hell, and the one spirit land accommodated all.

The older Maori of fairly recent times continued to harbour the thought that their own spirit land was peopled with the souls of their relatives and ancestors. Hence, the funeral speeches directed toward the deceased exhorted the departing spirit to pass on to the spirit land to join its relatives and the multitude of the tribe. Individual ideas regarding that mysterious bourne were expressed in poetic laments such as the classic in which Peau advised the soul of his grandson to plead the ignorance of youth if asked to recite his genealogy in the other world. However, to establish favour with those who had gone before, the grandson was told to recite the names of the historic voyaging canoes in which his ancestors had crossed the great ocean of Kiwa and so be recognized and received.

Though there was no organized punishment for acts of omission and commission in this life, the esoteric version states that Whiro, after his defeat at Te Paerangi, retired to the Underworld where he vowed to wreak vengeance against the descendants of Tane when they passed his way. This attitude on his part must not be interpreted as a punishment for sin, but as a continuation of the vendetta which commenced on earth. However, Hinetitama, on her flight from Tane, had promised him that she would protect their descendants from the machinations of Whiro, whatever that may mean.

Another celebrity living near the entrance to the Underworld was Miru, who dwelt in a house named Te Tatau o te Po (The Portal-to-the-Underworld). This name illustrates the overlapping that exists in different stories for Te Tatau o te po was also the name given to the courtyard before the house of Hinetitama. Miru was a treacherous spirit, for page 517Taranaki laments refer to Kewa being trapped (rorea) in Mini's house, but the rest of the visiting party, under the leadership of Rongomai, escaped. There were good and evil spirits, and evil spirits reflected the character they had been burdened with on earth.

Living people were greatly afraid of the ghosts of the dead, particularly at sunset and the first night after death. People were apprehensive that the spirit of the deceased might linger about for awhile before departing on its last journey. A tardy ghost was liable to attack a relative or anyone who went out alone at night. An uncle of mine who visited us was afraid to go home one night because of a recent death. My mother overcame his fears by giving him a cooked potato to carry in his pocket, saying, "Spirits will not come near cooked food. If you see one, rub the potato on your face." The remedy was simple but effective.

I have felt at times that the feeling which an orator put into the farewell words to the dead, "Haere ki te Po" (Go to the Underworld) expressed both a prayer and a command. It was advisable to get the spirits away to a concentration camp, from which they could not return except under exceptional circumstances. This fear of a lingering spirit found additional expression in the religious ritual and incantation sometimes used to prevent the spirits of the dead from returning to this earth to worry their relatives. Perhaps the fear of ghosts had a share in creating the concept of a spirit land from which no messenger returns. However, in spite of all precautions, spirits were credited with returning of their own volition at times. The story is told of a famous warrior in the spirit land who heard that the fame of his son threatened to eclipse his own record. He returned to earth fully armed, challenged his son to single combat, and defeated him. This story was obviously composed to enhance the family prestige. However, it was a diplomatic act on the part of the son to be defeated and thus effectively lay his father's ghost.

Spirits were also purposely recalled by mediums, through incantations and offerings, in order to create family gods through whom they acquired power as the official mediums. The spirits of deified ancestors remained on call to occupy their material symbols or enter their human mediums when the correct ritual commanded their presence.

The so-called esoteric version of the after life elaborated by the school of Te Matorohanga comes as a direct contradiction to the above statements. This astounding version (80, p. 112) states that back in the ancient land of origin, at a place named Te Honoiwairua (The Joining-of-spirits), there stood a square house named Hawaikinui with a door in each of the four walls facing out on the four cardinal points of the compass. The spirits of the dead, no matter where they became spirits, were wafted by the winds to the particular doorway which faced their way. Hawaikinui was an assembly house, and the spirits entered it. The most extraordinary page 518part of the story now follows. Hawaikinui was also a clearing house where the spirits were divided into those who were evil and those who were not evil. The evil spirits were those who had committed murder and were guilty of bad conduct in the living world. It is not stated who separated the goats from the sheep. The spirits convicted of evil passed out through the south door, descended the Tahekeroa slope to the Underworld, and entered the dark realm of Whiro, god of evil. The souls of the righteous left the building through the east door, ascended a mountain named Tawhitinui or Maunganui, climbed up a narrow stairway named Te Aratiatia or a hanging ladder named Te Aratoihuarewa, and so entered the exalted heavens of Io. At first thought, the story arouses admiration at what appears to be a higher concept. But, is it a higher concept to punish the soul of man in the spirit world for deeds for which he has already been punished in this world? By no stretch of imagination can I believe that the Maori who is so tolerant in this world could be so intolerant in the next. The Matorohanga version bears all the signs of the influence of Christian teaching, whereby God in heaven, Satan in hell, and the system of future reward and punishment have been cleverly interpreted and recast in the language of Maori mythology.

In Polynesia, the various island groups had their own theories, which differed in detail as to the disposition of the souls of the dead. In the western groups of Samoa and Tonga, the souls went to some western abode known as Pulotu, a home which they shared with the Fijians. In the rest of Polynesia, the souls went to the Po, an Underworld or a world to the west. Of the various Po, that of Mangaia is selected here for discussion because its elaboration has been wrongly regarded as showing signs of Christian influence. The souls of the Mangaian dead collected on a tree which descended to the Po like a modern lift. On arrival, the souls were caught in a net, half drowned in a fresh water lake, revived with kava beverage made by the daughters of Miru, and then cooked on the fire of Miru. This sounds like hell, but it isn't really. Miru was an underworld character who occurs in Maori, Hawaiian, and other regional myths. The Mangaians evidently devoted more attention to her; and to make her as atrocious as possible, they made her a cannibal, who preferred her meals cooked, as all cannibals did. Thus, between the punishment fire of hell and the cooking fire of Miru there is no affinity, beyond the fact that both were fires in the nether regions. All souls which went down on the lift were eaten by Miru, but they retained their identity after being digested, for the Mangaians did not attempt to destroy the concept of the immortality of the soul.

The prospect which the Mangaians created for themselves was not attractive, and it may have been for that reason that they created an alternative. In Mangaian society, the warriors acquired the highest social page 519prestige and they created a special spirit realm for themselves which they Darned Tiairi. It was as far removed from the realm of Mini as possible. The souls of warriors slain in battle, instead of descending to the Po, gathered on a mountain top, and leaped up into space to ascend to Tiairi. Here they retained their vigour and, garlanded with flowers, told tales of battle and danced their war dances. To gain admittance to Tiairi, however, they had to the in battle. Ikoke, a younger brother of the great Mautara, said, when he heard of the death of another brother in battle, "We shall meet later on in the warriors' resting place." To accomplish the meeting, he deliberately allowed himself to be killed in battle. Incidents such as this and references in old songs prove that the concept of Tiairi was evolved long before the first missionaries landed in Mangaia. With such an accepted concept, it is little wonder that the Mangaians were fearless fighters to whom death was not the end but the beginning.

In spite of variations and elaborations, the Polynesians and the Maori believed in the immortality of the soul and in a spirit land to which the souls of the dead went as their just right, without fear of being penalized for deeds committed in their life on earth.